82 games may be too many

Billy Hunter says the league and the players met so soon after the last debacle and for so long into Thursday morning in no small part because the clock is ticking on an 82-game season.

It can be salvaged, he suggested, if a deal is reached by Sunday or Monday.

Derek Fisher said, “It’s still possible if we can get a deal done in the next few days.”

My big blasphemous thought, however, is to hurry up and get the deal done but let the 82-game dream fall by the wayside.

David Stern’s NBA would have to cook up that schedule, and he was, predictably, coyly noncommittal.

“We’re going to knock ourselves out,” he said, “consistent with what’s in the best interest of our fans and our players in terms of a schedule, to try to schedule as many games as possible.

“If we can make a deal this week, whether that is 82 games or not is really dependent on so many things that have to be checked. We have building issues. We have building issues versus hockey issues. We have travel schedules. We have all kinds of things that are difficult for us. We have the sheer volume of games that have to be compressed and the amount of back-to-backs that players could be asked to play.”

At the moment, the league has announced the cancelation of only the first two weeks of the regular season. But others have surely been ruled out by the practicalities of what has to happen between a handshake deal and opening night. In 1999’s lockout, schedule creation, training camp, free agency and a shortened preseason took a month. There have been some signs that this time around all that could be done more quickly. But even just three weeks from the soonest possible deal would mean the scheduler having to pack something like 150 extra games into the remainder of a season that is normally 1,230 games.

Asked if it was safe to say there would not be games in the latter half of November, Stern said, “I don’t have a calendar with me, but you’re as good a guesser as I am.”

Maybe Stern is noncommittal because the threat of a short season is one more threat to players’ pocketbooks that might be handy in talks. Every missed game is salary owners will never have to pay.

Maybe the NBA has long had contingency schedules, with late starts, in place. Maybe it can push the playoffs a bit later, even with the Olympics starting shortly thereafter.

Or maybe it really is just a big ol' scheduling nightmare, which will result in a tough-to-watch, too-long season with ridiculous travel and far too many back-to-backs.

As basketball fans, we have been pining for a full season. But now that it’s the end of October, in the name of seeing energetic players at their best, maybe it’s time to embrace the idea of lost games. Put down your shoehorns, oh schedule makers.

As much as we have been rooting for 82 games, the calendar says it’s time to root for top-quality NBA basketball instead.